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The Fit Five: Rest Periods Impact on Muscle-Building and Weight Loss

Our expert explains the importance of rest and recovery for hitting your fitness goals.

Day in and day out, you go to the gym and get these great workouts in that leave you sore and feeling good, and the hottie that gives you a towel when you walk into the gym has even commented on how good you look. One day you notice that your weights aren’t going up anymore, you’re losing muscle, and that hottie’s smile isn’t quite as wide as it was a couple weeks back. Truth is, you might be slowing your progress by not slowing down when appropriate. We asked David Larson, BS, CSCS of Pulse Fitness in Scottsdale, AZ to give us the scoop on proper rest and recovery for improved performance.

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Q1: What's the big deal with rest, anyway?

"Rest is one of the most important variables in a workout program. Well programmed exercise is typically designed to tire you out appropriately, by using up an energy source. There are four processes that happen in our body and muscles that give us the energy to lift. The recovery of the system(s) used is necessary for completing all sets."

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Q2: How long should I be resting?

"Strength and power movements typically require more rest than other types of training. A typical set may only last 5-10 seconds; however, it may take anywhere between 1-3 min to recover. For someone trying to gain size, rest periods of 45-90 seconds are appropriate. When training for power, typically a 1:4 rest ratio is used. For example, if it takes you 10 seconds to complete a set of box jumps, rest 30-40 seconds and then repeat. When doing interval training, the rest can be even shorter, maybe 20 seconds of rest to a 10 second sprint. However, the sprint should be greater than 3 minutes to gain maximum benefit."

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Q3: When should I keep my rest intervals short?

"Sometimes short rests can be beneficial. Other times they can can be detrimental. If the goal is to gain strength and power, too short of a rest period can lead to decreased strength, poor quality of movement, and sub-maximal power output as the workout goes on. This can impair recovery, which can work against your goals. Conversely, shortened rest periods can be beneficial if hypertrophy is the goal. Shortened rest periods have been proven to provide an enhanced stimulus for muscle building. Training to create a "pump" through short rest period training may be particularly beneficial when combined in a program with high-tension strengthening exercises, like a bench press without fully 'locking out.'"

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Q4: How long does it take to recover from a workout?

"Glycogen (the stuff your muscles use as fuel) re-synthesis typically takes about an hour; however, the optimal recovery time will likely vary individually. The best thing to do is to listen to your body. The incorporation of split training (e.g. back and bis one day, chest and tris another) is a good idea if you find that you are recovering slowly. Also, nutritional factors can play a huge role in recovery."

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Q5: Can rest affect how sore (or not sore) I get?

"Yes, the duration of your rest between sets can influence the quality of your set and duration of time under tension of subsequent sets. This can lead to increased or decreased soreness.  Additionally, the amount of soreness you get from exercise is highly dependent on the individual and nutritional factors. Soreness isn't necessarily a good indicator a workout quality, so it is best not to go by this measure. The most important factor is progression, not soreness."

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